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Club members bound by a love of books
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Gabriele Koecher leads members of her book club as they discuss “The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency” during their monthly meeting at the Blackshear Place Library last week.

In a small, plain room at the Blackshear Place Library, a handful people gathered in what would appear to an outsider as a typical business meeting.

The group gathered not to discuss any day-to-day business but to sip traditional African red bush tea and discuss a clever detective from the African nation of Botswana.

The second Tuesday of every month, the book club meets to talk about the latest book its members have read. This time, it was "The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency" by Alexander McCall Smith.

Group reading is an activity that has been popular for centuries, but has undergone a resurgence over the last decade.

Popular books like the "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" series have inspired many new readers, while Oprah Winfrey’s selections for her televised Oprah’s Book Club are instant best sellers.

"Sometimes it just takes something hot like that to pique folks’ interest," said Myra Meade, owner of the Hall Book Exchange. "I think people need an escape sometimes and that’s why they go to fantasy."

October marks National Reading Group Month. Hall County has a number of book clubs to celebrate it, made up of friends, neighbors and perfect strangers that meet in a number of settings.

Meade said book clubs run the gamut from very structured groups with book selection committees to families sharing books.

"When you like to read and you like to share books with people, that constitutes a book club," Meade said. "It’s just that camaraderie you get from sharing and enjoying the same stuff."

Meade said her club, called BRATX, or Book Readers at the Exchange, is very informal. They read all types of books outside of the contemporary literature many clubs stick to.

"We just talk about books," Meade said. "There’s something for everyone."

Gainesville Attorney Sam Oliver formed a book club with his friends four years ago that meets once a month in his law office.

"There was three or four men that said we enjoy reading and we would enjoy being in a book club. Our spouses were in a couple of other women’s book clubs," Oliver said. "We said maybe there’s something for us having an all men’s group."

Oliver said each member of the club takes a turn selecting a book he has read and enjoyed to present to the club.

"The book is selected because that particular member has recommended it, because he has read it on his own and got a lot from it," Oliver said.

The club reads a mix of fiction and nonfiction, including biographies, historical books and classics such as "Huckleberry Finn."

"It’s forced me to read things that I probably would not have chosen on my own," Oliver said.

The library group selects its books by voting on a topic, then narrowing down a list to a single book to read that month.

Library members have the economical advantage of getting their books for free; once the book is selected, enough copies are ordered from other libraries so members don’t have to buy their own.

The Blackshear Place club is open to the public, making for a diverse group with nothing in common but reading as a hobby.

Hall County Libraries Director Adrian Mixson said he has been struck with how many people continue to look to books for entertainment.

In an age saturated with Web sites, video games, DVDs and electronic readers such as Amazon’s Kindle, books can still compete.

"People are reading books," Mixson said. "They’re not all on the Internet."

Elissa Reynolds, a member of the Blackshear Place book club, said though she enjoys watching movies and TV, there is something special about reading.

"The stories are so much bigger in a book. You can write things you could never film," she said.

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